The globalization of business continues to challenge our ability to operate effectively across countries and cultures, which is why a global mindset is an essential professional skill. Professionals with a global mindset leverage all that they know about their culture and the cultures of other people to react to situations in the most productive ways, all without losing sight of who they are.
Even those with significant international experience benefit from taking time to refresh and train their brains to be more global. The following five-step cycle can help you develop a global mindset and improve the quality of your cross-cultural interactions. What it comes down to is the recognition that we all need to be more open and flexible, balanced with a strong vision of what works and doesn’t work for us on a personal level.
How to Develop Cultural Awareness
1. Recognize your own cultural values and biases
The cycle begins with discovering and analyzing your own values and biases, which are rooted in a variety of cultural influences that span your life. You might complete a cultural values assessment to not only get to know yourself but also see how you compare to other cultures across various dimensions like communication style and hierarchy. This step is particularly helpful if you are about to begin a global project or take a business trip to a new country or even when you’re interacting with diverse colleagues in your own office. Developing a strong self-awareness has shown to foster a non-judgmental perspective on differences, which is critical to developing a global mindset.
2. Get to know your personality traits, especially curiosity
There are five specific traits that affect your ability to interact effectively with different cultures:
- Social dexterity
- Emotional awareness
Ask yourself how open you are to different ways of managing a team. Are you flexible enough to attempt a different feedback style? How easy is it for you to strike up a conversation with people from foreign countries?
While these traits are all important, curiosity is critical, because we can all find easy ways to be more curious, and curiosity is what leads us to ask questions, which lead to the insights we need to understand the idiosyncrasies of global work. If you’re not naturally curious, you can train yourself to engage in “curiosity conversations” to learn more about the people around you. A simple chat on the differences between what’s familiar in your part of the world and in their part of the world can go a long way toward integrating and ironing out any salient differences. People are usually willing to talk about their society’s norms at large, if not their own personal habits.
3. Learn about the workplace and business expectations of relevant countries and markets
The third step transfers your attention away from yourself to learn about the typical workplace habits, expectations and best practices in other countries and cultures. (It’s important to note that cultural norms are not stereotypes but high-level tendencies.) While you can’t know everything about every culture, you can certainly access on-demand insights on how to do business effectively from a variety of online resources and digital learning platforms.
Can you schedule meetings during lunch time in Mexico? Do you know when the weekend is in Saudi Arabia? How should you establish credibility during a meeting with a potential client in Japan? You can also widen your base by seeking work that will expose you to countries or markets important to your role and career.
4. Build strong intercultural relationships
Just like when learning to speak a second language, it’s helpful to immerse yourself with people from other parts of the world to develop a global mindset. These relationships facilitate valuable learning about what works and what doesn’t. The ability to form relationships across cultures is not a given, but the more positive intercultural relationships you develop, the more comfort you’ll have with diverse work styles and the less you’ll resort to stereotyping. How often do you approach people from different cultures when at networking or social events?
To build your intercultural or global network, it helps to find cultural mentors or coaches who can give you feedback on what to do better. You can also use intercultural learning platforms to gain country-specific insights into appropriate and effective trust-building activities so that you don’t unknowingly stifle your efforts with the wrong approach.
5. Develop strategies to adjust and flex your style
What has made you successful in a domestic or local context likely won’t help you reach the same level of success on a global scale, which is why learning to adapt your style is often the hardest part of mastering a global mindset. This step involves expanding your repertoire of business behaviors by learning to behave in ways that may be unusual to you but highly effective when interacting with others.
For example, imagine how much relationship-building time you need to factor into your schedule when your new peer from India makes a business trip to visit you. Is a lunch or two enough, or do you need to extend an invite to show them around town on the weekend? If it feels excessive or inappropriate to you, it may be a good sign that you’re going beyond your personal comfort zone, that you’re flexing your style and that it may indeed be the right thing to do.
In any case, one of the benefits of developing strong relationships with colleagues from different cultures is that you can test your approach and ask them for feedback on how your style would be received in their part of the world. Discussing cultural differences with your global colleagues is a great way to build trust and develop personal strategies for success at the same time.